John Proctor: A Tragic Hero Over the years, literary devices have changed as writers continually come up with new ones. One device that is has been used many times throughout the generations is the appearance of the tragic hero. Since the days of Shakespeare, tragic heroes have been used to enhance the meaning of a literary work. Any character cannot be described as tragic hero. Several key characteristics are necessary for the tragic hero to possess in order to be characterized as such. He must be high-ranked or have a high standing in the community.
He must have a weakness or a tragic flaw and be involved in a struggle. In the end, that struggle will lead to his downfall. Arthur Miller purposely incorporates these characteristics into John Proctor, one of the main figures in The Crucible. He masterfully portrays Proctor as a tragic hero even though he is a common man. A tragic hero is usually a member of the upper class or royalty. However, Miller believes that a common man is just as capable of being a tragic hero.
Fear is the underlying element of tragedies according to Miller. In The Crucible, there are many instances of fear. The witchcraft hysteria strikes fear into the heart of the Salem townspeople. Miller realizes this, and this is the main reason for the presence of Proctor as a hero.
The Crucible is definitely a tragedy as stated in Miller's definition of a tragedy because there is a tremendous amount of fear throughout the play. Using a common man as the hero is something that has never been done before. A common man has the exact same abilities to know fear. Therefore, Miller is easily able to convincingly show Proctor as a tragic hero. John Proctor is a good example of a tragic hero in Miller's play, The Crucible. He demonstrates all of a hero's characteristics in some way or another.
Although not upper class, he is still an upstanding member of the community. He is well respected and looked up to by those around him. As Miller describes him, "Proctor, respected and even feared in Salem, has come to regard himself as a kind of fraud." (1098) He believes himself to be a fraud because of his tragic flaw: the affair with Abigail Williams. That affair is Proctor's one weakness, and no one knows about it besides John, his wife, Elizabeth, and Abby. Another characteristic of a tragic hero is that he must be involved in some kind of struggle. Proctor is involved in two different struggles.
One is the personal struggle between him and his wife. Elizabeth knows of his lechery and has a hard time forgiving him. Proctor tries to convince her of his love and faithfulness, but it is almost impossible. The other struggle Proctor faces is the social struggle that is going on throughout the whole town.
The witchcraft hysteria has overtaken Salem, and Proctor struggles to stand out as an honest opposer of the hangings even though it may lead to his own downfall. John Proctor's last characteristic that makes him a tragic hero is that his struggles eventually end in his downfall. His courage to stand strong in his beliefs leads him to death at the gallows. His personal struggle with Elizabeth is resolved as he makes his decision to refuse to confess to witchcraft. Elizabeth sees his inner goodness shine when he refuses to lie, and she realizes how unfair she has been.
Proctor saves the lives of the others who are accused when he unselfishly declines to save his own. He acts as a martyr when he places others before himself. He would rather die an honorable death than live a dishonorable life. Miller succeeds in making a common man a tragic hero as he does John Proctor in The Crucible. Proctor is truly a hero in the play. He exhibits all of the characteristics, and he acts as a martyr in his death.
All of these combined enable one to regard Proctor as a tragic hero.